House targets spy center in Cuba
- By Dan Verton
- Jul 21, 2000
The Lourdes signals intelligence facility
Spurred by what experts are calling political fallout from the Elian Gonzalez
saga, the House this week passed a bill that would prohibit the rescheduling
of Russia's debt to the United States unless Russia shuts down a massive
listening post just 90 miles from Florida.
For decades, Cuba has hosted one of Russia's largest clandestine signals
intelligence posts in the world. The Lourdes facility, near Havana, enables
Russia to eavesdrop on almost all unencrypted telephone, voice and data
communications in the United States, including those that are relayed by
satellites. The Lourdes facility enabled the Soviet Union to intercept classified
U.S. military plans during the Gulf War, according to a former member of
the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB.
The Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress as early as 1996 that
Russia provides Cuba with as much as $200 million a year in fuel, timber
and spare parts for equipment as compensation for hosting the facility.
However, the Russian/American Trust and Cooperation Act of 2000, introduced
by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), may bring pressure on the Russian
government to curtail support for the facility. The measure (H.R. 4118)
passed the House 275-146 this week.
"For years now, the defense and intelligence community has been pointing
out the danger posed by the Lourdes' listening facility," said Rep. Porter
Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"Clearly, this capability offers the means to conduct cyberwarfare against
the United States and its people."
The Russian intelligence gathering facilities in Cuba "permit the wholesale
collection of sensitive United States military, diplomatic and commercial
data, and the invasion of millions of Americans' privacy," said Rep. Lincoln
Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who, like Ros-Lehtinen, fled Cuba as a child. "The
Cuban regime, with Russia's help, has the capability to conduct sustained
and systematic information warfare against the United States," he said.
However, intelligence experts characterized the bill as an effort to
put pressure on the Cuban government in the aftermath of the U.S. decision
to return Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba. The action sent shockwaves
throughout the Cuban exile community and increased pressure on politicians
in Florida to prove their support for the anti-Castro movement.
Because the bill was introduced by Ros-Lehtinen, a leading anti-Castro
voice in Congress, "it may be more about Cuba than about signals intelligence,"
an intelligence expert said.